In an ideal world, school would be an amazing, productive, happy place where enthusiastic educators nurtured young minds & taught them to love learning. Most of the teachers I have met over the years strive towards that ideal, but just like in every workplace, there are difficult people in teaching too.
Parents often ask me for tips on how to deal with difficult teachers. Their fear is that by tackling the teacher they may in fact make the situation worse for their child. This is particularly true of small schools where the student may have the same teacher for a number of years.
When dealing with difficult teachers, I suggest the following;
Respect: Like them or loath them, the teacher deserves to be treated with respect. Treat them as you would like them to treat your child. You can never directly change a person’s behaviour. You can however, control your behaviour and when you behave in a respectful manner you will ultimately change that person’s behaviour towards you.
Communication: Nobody likes to be door stepped so arrange an appointment just as you would with a doctor or dentist. Have your diary ready – know when you are available. If the teacher cannot meet you within a few days, give them some alternative times when you are available. That way you are giving them a choice but not control. Do not be bullied into a time. Your time is just as valuable as the teacher’s. You need to be calm & ready for the meeting, not stressed about it. Keep a record of how many appointments are proposed, dates, times, phone calls etc
Unemotional: Talking about our children leaves us very open to being emotional and when emotional sometimes things can be said rashly. A good way to detach at these times is to imagine yourself observing the meeting. This helps you to disassociate from what is being said & to remain calm.
Prepare: No doubt the difficult teacher will have prepared themselves for the meeting, so you need to be prepared too. If you are unprepared it will be very difficult for you to refute anything the teacher says. Check out the school policy, read the latest Whole School Evaluation on the Department of Education website. Have a look at the NCCA website and the teacher union websites. They all hold lots of valuable information – not forgetting the National Parent Councils websites.
When preparing, make sure that you have lots of items to celebrate about your child. Remember that they are very successful human beings and are learning in their own way. You may have a lot of negativity coming from the difficult teacher & you need to be able to focus on what is going well & how to turn around what is not going well yet.
Language: When I say watch your language, I don’t mean bad language (that goes without saying). What I mean is listen carefully to every word as the teacher may use absolute words such as never, always, all, only, everyone, e.g. everyone else sits quietly all the time. The only way to challenge this type of language is to calmly repeat the absolute word and make it into a question – everyone? All the time? Never? Always? It undermines the absolute and allows the conversation to move forward.
Track: Track everything! I know it sounds a bit over the top but if a teacher is proving to be difficult you need a record and a timeline. If you asked to be rung and no calls were made, record it. Appointment rescheduled – record it. In the event that you need to bring the matter further you will need to show that you have been the reasonable party.
Meeting: When at the meeting ask that the teacher sit beside you away from a school desk – this is a meeting of equals, you are not student. If you know the teacher’s first name use it, if you don’t ask them and introduce yourself with your first name. It is the 21st century & hiding behind Mr or Mrs is an attempt to assert their dominance. Be friendly, you are here to help both the teacher and your child. Be open to what the teacher has to say. Ask how together you can solve the issue. Agree a time & date for the follow up meeting, say in 2 weeks time, to evaluate progress.
After the meeting: Follow up with a handwritten thank you card and a written copy of what was agreed at the meeting and confirm the date & time of the follow up meeting. Be at that follow up meeting! Move heaven & earth to be there!
Escalate: If after your meeting(s), you are not getting a favourable outcome then you must escalate the issue to the next level. This is where your tracking will be invaluable. Yes it may mean more hassle for you but you are your child’s advocate and they need you.
Like all bad situations, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Sometimes difficult decisions may have to be made, but those decisions can be come to easier when approached correctly. The majority of teachers have their pupils’ welfare at heart and want them to do well. Most teachers are reasonable and welcome parental involvement, particularly if any issue arises that is causing difficulty in the class. Thankfully, these open minded, caring teachers are the teachers your children will meet, most of the time.
If you need some help here are some useful websites:
Hummingbird Learning Centre www.hummingbirdlearning.com
National Council for Curriculum and Development: www.ncca.ie
Gifted Children www.giftedkids.ie
Department of Education & Skills www.education.ie